Angela Myracle’s research is going to the dogs. Or, more accurately, for the dogs. As a scientist with Maine EPSCoR’s Sustainable Ecological Aquaculture Network (SEANET), Myracle looks for innovations in aquaculture.
And when the assistant professor of human nutrition at the University of Maine spied dog treats at a local supermarket that were made with lobster from Iceland, she thought, “What about dog biscuits made with green crabs from Maine?” If the novel idea becomes a market reality, Myracle says it could be a win-win-win situation.
Voracious green crabs are decimating Maine’s clam population, threatening the livelihoods of clammers, and clogging lobster traps. Female green crabs lay about 185,000 eggs a year, according to Fisheries and Oceans Canada. And one green crab reportedly can devour 40 half-inch clams in a single day.
These invasives could be to blame, at least in part, for the decrease in Maine’s soft-shell clam harvest. According to the Department of Marine Resources, the harvest has plummeted from 9.3 million meat pounds in 2015, to 7.3 million pounds in 2016 to 1.4 million pounds in 2017.
So if a business entrepreneur cooked up natural, nutritious green crab treats for dogs, Myracle says people who earn their living on the sea and mudflats might be incentivized to harvest green crabs as bycatch to earn additional money. Which would result in green crabs (Carcinus maenas) being removed from the environment
But would the treats pass the sniff test? Would pups find that dog biscuits made with green crabs are a treat? Fergus, Nala, Myst, Ruby and Emerald did.
Myracle says the unofficial favorite of area canine taste-testers was the green crab and whole wheat biscuit. They wolfed it down, she says. The green crab and oat biscuit was runner-up. As for the green crab and rice biscuit, one pooch spit it out.
Myracle and undergraduate Anna Smestad, a human nutrition and pre-med major from Corinna, Maine, are continuing to experiment with ingredients and the baking procedure. Currently, they cook about 10–15 crabs — shell and all — for as long as 90 minutes, then mash them. They mix the resulting crab meal with whole wheat flour, then bake it. Myracle and Smestad also are continuing to examine the digestibility of the biscuits, as well as their nutritional value, texture and pliability. “It’s about taking a simple idea to solve a complex problem and help the Maine economy,” says Myracle.